Every year, celebrations that we did in France seem to sneak up on me because they’re not marked on the US calendars we use, and by the time I realize they are here it’s too late. But not this year!
I got my planner in time and sat down and wrote in all the French holidays I didn’t want to miss. All those religious celebrations leading up to Easter are nice for two reasons: it makes Easter feel more meaningful with deliberate thought about events leading up to it, and also my husband always points out how depressing that stretch of time is: Christmas is over, there are still three months of winter (if you live in Wyoming…) and there are no real holidays. Epiphany and the galette des rois (king’s cake) is one of those.
It’s a cake traditionally shared at Epiphany, on January 6. It’s a (mainly) catholic holiday that celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem, symbolizing Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. But everybody does it even if you’re not catholic in France, because hello, there’s CAKE!
Anyway, you hide a small porcelain figurine (traditionally it’s a nativity figurine, but these days it might be a character from the latest cartoon… or a coin, or some other small object) inside and the person who finds it gets to wear a shiny paper crown and be “king” and order everybody around for a day.
From what I’m reading on wikipedia, it’s also associated with Mardi Gras, and Louisiana-style king cakes are more colorful and are basically made from a sort of sweet bread. I know a lot of Latino stores sell them here as well. We have those kinds in France too, but the one I traditionally grew up eating is the northern-style one, more like a sweet pot pie: it’s a puff pastry creation filled with an almond paste. It’s delicious!
Fun fact: After the French revolution, having a “king’s cake” was too dangerous so some politicians tried to ban them. But people liked them too much and some sans-culottes renamed it “fête du bon voisinage” (roughly: “neighborly relations’ festival”), where people shared the “galette de l’égalité” (“equality cake”). So it was back on French tables pretty quickly after that. Ha ha.
The thing is, living in the US means there are some things we just can’t find at the store. So we learn to make them. This was my first homemade galette des rois, and I’m pretty dang proud!
I hid a big commemorative coin from visiting one of the chateaux when I was a kid, and nobody found it the night we cut into it… because we’re not quite savages and didn’t eat the entire thing in one night, although we were sorely tempted!
I ended up getting it while eating leftovers during the week. Next year we’ll make a party of it and make sure we eat the entire cake in one sitting — with a proper crown and everything 🙂
Anyway. Would you like to make one for yourself? It’s a lot easier than I had anticipated, if you are using pre-made puff pastry. I didn’t have the courage or energy to spend the day hand making puff pastry quite yet, maybe next year. So here we go.
Galette des rois recipe
- Store-bought puff pastry, two sheets (the only one I’ve ever been able to find is Pepperidge Farm, it contains two sheets which is exactly what you need for this recipe. I wish they made the sheets round and not square though, I had to cut the corners so some of it was wasted. I found it in the frozen section at walmart, next to the pre-made desserts like cream puffs — not with the pie crusts and pillsbury croissants-in-a-can where you’d expect it…)
- 7 oz almond powder (use good, fine powder, not too coarse)
- 5 oz sugar
- 2 eggs
- half a stick of butter, softened
- a few drops of almond extract
- 1 egg yolk mixed with a little cold water to brush on top
- and of course, your fève! (porcelain figurine, large coin, etc. Fève actually means bean so it used to simply be a dry bean, but that’s kind of boring, get creative!)
- Lay one sheet of the pastry in a tart pan, poke with a fork.
- Mix up a smooth filling by combining the almond powder, sugar, butter, eggs and almond extract.
- Spread it into a disk in the center of your pastry, be careful not to go all the way to the edges.
- Hide the fève! Put it along an edge so you are less likely to cut into it in the center — and remember, be careful that it’s not so small someone might swallow it…
- Lay the second pastry sheet on top and press the edges shut (it helps to slightly wet the dough and almost fold it a bit. I then used a fork to press the edges inward and score them)
- Brush the egg yolk mixture on top. (I think it tastes better to add a little powedered sugar to the mix as well, it makes the pastry sweeter)
- Use a sharp knife to trace in a pattern — you can get inspiration online, there are plenty of different styles that all work fine.
- Bake at 410º for about 30 minutes (keep an eye on it starting at 25 minutes but it can go up to 40 minutes) until the top is a nice golden color.
- Let cool a bit and enjoy!
Love my little helper!
The person who finds the fève gets to wear a crown, there are plenty of Mardi Gras crowns available at party stores. Or Burger King crowns work too!
If you want to make this a little more of a spiritual experience, you can also read Matthew 2:1-12, which tells the story of the wise men, or you could watch this short video about them too. See, it’s fun and educational! 😉 AND absolutely delicious.